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Charles Sifford was an African-American golfer who broke many boundaries for future black golf players. He competed in more than 400 PGA tournaments throughout his career, the Negro Open on five occasions, and made more than 1 million dollars playing golf. His unwavering dedication to the game while facing blatant racism earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Bio of the Young Charlie Sifford

Charles Sifford discovered his love of golf at an early age and supported his family through his passion.

Charles Luther Sifford was born on June 2, 1922, in Charlotte, North Carolina. [1] As a child, he earned money for the family by working as a caddie at the Carolina Country Club.[2] Sifford gave 50 cents of his 60 cent salary to his mother and kept the rest to purchase a cigar. [3]

Charlie Sifford learned quickly on the golf course and he could shoot par by 1935 at only 13 years old. Sutton Alexander, the owner of the Carolina Country Club, took a liking to Sifford and helped his golf game. Clayton Heafner, who later became a professional PGA golf player, mentored Sifford as well. His natural talent agitated many of the white members of the Club and Alexander felt it necessary to ask Sifford to leave before someone hurt him.[4]

Golf Career Beginnings

Charlie Sifford fell in love with golf and wanted to play in the largest tournaments offered by golf, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). He began as a coach to Billy Eckstine, the singers and band leader. He also played in as many non-PGA games as possible and won significantly. Sifford received support from famous African-American athletes like Don Newcombe, Joe Lewis, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, and the renowned Jackie Robinson.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball and also guided Sifford in his PGA tour goal. Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spider, two African-American golfers, completed the Los Angeles Open with qualifying scores for the California Richmond Open sponsored by the PGA in 1948.

PGA officials barred their acceptance into the Richmond Open. They also got the tournament’s sponsors to call the games “Open Invitationals” to prevent African-Americans from attending.[5] In 1952, Sifford entered into the Phoenix Open with four other black golfers, including Joe Lewis. Someone protested their presence by placing excrement in the first hole’s cup and delayed the start of their game.

Between 1952 and 1956, Sifford won the National Negro Open five times.[6] He competed against Arnold Palmer in 1955 and almost beat him.[7] When Charles Sifford qualified for the Long Beach Golf Open in 1957, the PGA officials accepted his entrance. He won the Open and became the first black golfer to win over white golfers in a PGA sponsored event.[8]

Charles Sifford, Breaking Barriers in Golf

In 1961, the California Attorney General urged the PGA to allow Charlie Sifford full membership into the association and they did. Sifford won the Puerto Rico Open in 1963 and the Greater Hartford Open in 1967, again being the first black golfer to ever win a sanctioned PGA event. In 1969, he won the Los Angeles Open. During his time as a PGA pro, Sifford earned more than $300,000. Despite all his successes, the PGA repeatedly denied his request to participate in the Masters Tournament.

Sifford experienced blatant racism anytime he tried to advance in the golf world. He entered into the Canadian Open and took the lead right away. Normally, the Canadian Open winner automatically enters into the Masters Tournament. Officials of the Open announced halfway through the games that they may not invite the winner to the Masters that year. Sifford did not win that tournament.

When Sifford hit a hole-in-one to win a new car and $100,000 as a prize, the organizers denied him. He took the case to court and won his earned prizes. In 1975, the PGA Masters Tour finally accepted an African-American athlete. Sifford had already retired and taught professional golf in a Cleveland, Ohio country club.[9]

Return to Golf Tournaments

Charles Sifford enjoyed teaching golf, but preferred to play in the large PGA tournaments.

In 1980, Charles Sifford joined the PGA’s new Seniors Tour. He participated in golf tournaments in this category for the next 10 years before moving on to the Super Seniors Tour after reaching the age of 60. He remained one of the highest earning golfers between 1981 and 1989 with over $1.2 million earned on the Seniors Tour. Throughout Sifford’s golf career, he earned almost $350,000 for winning tournaments along from competing in 422 PGA tours. He won $930,000 from his time on the PGA Seniors Tour.[10]

Death and Influence

Charles Sifford laid the groundwork for many successful Africa-American golfers through his tireless efforts to continue playing golf. The first black golfer to play in the 1975 PGA Masters Tour, Lee Elder, winner of multiple PGA tours, Calvin Peete, and the famous Tiger Woods. In 1992, Sifford published Just Let Me Play, his autobiography detailing his struggles and successes.

Charles Sifford earned more than a million dollars playing golf.

The World Golf Hall of Fame inducted Charlie Sifford as their first African-American member in 2004. They placed him the Lifetime Achievement Category.[11] In 2006, the University of St. Andrews honored him with an honorary doctorate. The next year he won the Old Tom Morris Award.[12] In November 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Charles Sifford the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[13]

Charles Sifford spent his last years in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, and died on February 3, 2015. He is buried in Moore’s Sanctuary AME Zion Cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina. The city of Charlotte named a golf course after Sifford posthumously.[14]

References

Bibliography


African American Registry. (2013). Sifford, Charles Luther. African American Registry.[2]

Hufford, B. (2015, February 4). Charlie Sifford (1922 - 2015). Find A Grave Memorial.[3]


World Golf Hall of Fame. (2017). Sifford, Charlie. World Golf Hall of Fame.[4]

Footnotes

  1. World Golf Hall of Fame, 2017
  2. African American Registry, 2013
  3. World Golf Hall of Fame, 2017
  4. African American Registry, 2013
  5. African American Registry, 2013
  6. African American Registry, 2013
  7. Hufford, 2015
  8. African American Registry, 2013
  9. African American Registry, 2013
  10. African American Registry, 2013
  11. African American Registry, 2013
  12. African American Registry, 2013
  13. Rhoden, W. C. (2014, November 25). A Pioneer’s Tribute Is Both a Reward and a Reminder: Charlie Sifford Is Given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The New York Times.[1]
  14. Hufford, 2015

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